March 12, 2022
How I Learned to stop worrying and love the map.
A love letter to gaming maps and Doom WADs.
The Exploration Era
Let’s start with a simple question, what is escapism? Wikipedia says: Escapism is mental diversion from unpleasant or boring aspects of daily life, typically through activities involving imagination or entertainment. Escapism may be used to occupy one’s self away from persistent feelings of depression or general sadness. Cambridge dictionary says: a way of avoiding an unpleasant or boring life, especially by thinking, reading, etc. about more exciting but impossible activities. And finally, Oxford dictionary says: The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
Escapism is to live out of the ordinary.
So now we know that it is but what the hell does it have to do with Doom? A 90s game with graphics so outdated by today’s standards that people (uncultured people) giggle at it by just looking it? A game with an engine older than me, older than probably most of today gaming population. Hell, Doom is pretty much the first actual example of 3D (or 2.5D if you go in that direction) FPS game that possessed enough pixels to be seen as revolutionary in the graphical department, yet now people probably would compare it to Super Mario Bros. in the visual aspect, somehow.
You see, beauty comes in many shapes and forms and as the saying goes: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I, and I think many others, see Doom as a beautiful game. Is not on the graphics, is not on the textures or the super low resolution, no. It’s on the palette. It’s on color. It’s in each and every brush the artist takes to form the whole painting. I see Doom as a way of art that could be compared to painting; you make the drawing, you decide the colors or the style, you choose the tools and the format and then you go wild and make it your own. Like a painting, it’s all in the way of how the painter paints. Sometimes there’s good paintings, sometimes bad, sometimes novice paintings that slowly grown into better works, sometimes there’s interesting or we could say extroverted paintings. Sometimes too, there’s master pieces, or in a cooler way to say it: A magnum opus. Kind of pretentious but I like how it sounds. Latin is cool, wouldn’t you agree?
From that point on we can tackle the true meaning and context behind the main subject. Escapism is a way of finding a better or more fun way of life, like a dreamy experience where we marooned ourselves in a non-existent yet existent world. Yet, escapism is not only a way of thought or an imaginary practice, but it also requires, in most cases, and special tool, or even better, and especial theater where we can launch ourselves and be happy for a few minutes. Escapism can be in a way, both a bad and a good thing. Some would argue that, as the word suggest, it is a way of running away from real life problems and hiding away from the actual issues of one surroundings. Sure, it can be that. Yet, on the other hand, it also works as a launchpad into a dreamlike state where people can find and gather different desires and dreams into a more palpable and enjoyable fashion, like the first scheme of an upcoming construction, it works as the first mold of the first brick. Whatever you believe about escapism, I can tell you, dear reader, that in one moment of your life at least once you went into the insides of your mind and thought to yourself: I wish…
And there’s nothing wrong in wishing.
And that’s how we end up looking for someplace to escape for a while. Some people use books; a fascinating world on paper that can create us complete worlds. Some people watch movies or tv; a theatrical world where words come to live and expressions can be seen, sounds can be heard and beauty can be admired. Some others choose music; a beautiful dreamscape where sound is the transport towards a symphony of delight and feel. There are many ways, many forms, many arts. Others that wish to partake on the same practice may take a different, more modernist way of lucid dreaming; videogames. Like a combination of everything, games mix all forms of art into a single color that shines by its fascinating and practically unparalleled aspect: Immersion. If you’ve been into the gaming world for quite some time, there’s mighty chances that you have come to inspect this aspect in close proximity. Some games, let me tell you, make you live what you see through the screen, what you hear through your speakers or headphones and what you read through the subtitles. And all this is done through your own choices, your own actions. You choose where to go, you choose what to do, what to live, how and when. The world is at the reach of a simple WASD. Of course, all games are different, but you get the point.
That picture right there, that’s E1M1 and that’s the first time I took a taste of Doom in my own. Sure, is not much, but it was the first step into what would become a journey that even I wouldn’t have imagined before. You see, gaming has been pretty much the go-to activity of mine to spend time (well spent time, mind you) since I was, damn, I don’t really know, very little. I have no exact memory of when and how, but I do remember with what. My first videogame ever was Spy Hunter for the PS2, after that, is all history now. Gaming, the PS2, and others games, showed me a door into worlds I have never seen before. Pretty worlds.
The funny thing was that during my early gaming days, what truly captivated me about videogames, wasn’t necessarily the fun, I had plenty of fun of course, but I was a kid back then so everything was fun to me, in that sense this was just another kind of fun. Then, what was the trick that got me into videogames? Well, precisely that: the world. This was an artform way beyond anything I had seen before. Interaction was flawless in my mind, it felt like a was traveling through the screen into something completely different to what my surroundings were. Like a portal into a new dimension where everything was… beautiful.
Spy Hunter may not look like much today, but my kid version sure loved it.
You look at that picture and you can easily guess that it’s an arcade game with a racing mix. Yup, it is, pretty damn fun (try it) but it also introduced me to places that I didn’t even had the idea existed in the world. If my memory isn’t failing, that first level is set in Berlin. I have zero idea how to hell Berlin looked like back in the day, so this for me was the true Berlin and it was beautiful. White clean roads with lush yellow-ish forest on the sides, with huge mountains on the background that closed the borders of the level with great magnitude, as well as various city/town levels with underground roads and functioning metros. I was blown away. This? This was art. This was my greatest and probably most profound artistic moment that shaped the way I would look at the world for years to come. Sounds a bit to dramatic? Like a hyperbole? Well, take it as you’ll like, but it is dramatic for me, well, it was a dramatic showcase the first time I saw that game.
And things got even better after that when I meet FPS games. Spy Hunter was great, yet, the arcade style of gameplay and fast-paced action meant that I couldn’t stop and just enjoy the scenery, some levels even had time limits. I just wanted to stop, get out the car (which is not possible) and just walk into the goddamn forest. Let me do that! Well, first-person-shooters let me do that finally and my first FPS was probably the greatest FPS that the landscape-craving mind of mine could have.
Unreal Tournament 2004 set the bar to pretty much all the upcoming FPS games I would play.
I’m pretty sure some lots of you have played Unreal Tournament in one way or another. Pretty much all the PC community went crazy when Unreal came out, but sadly I wasn’t even born yet. Still, I did get the chance to play UT2004 in like, 2008 or something, and oh boy was it glorious. This game was my cocaine back in the day. I would play the crap out of it. Picture a 6yo kid playing this game during the entire day with a big grin on his face. My family did and they didn’t like the idea that much so I couldn’t play the entire game… only the entire morning and boy, thanks grandpa for letting me play without thinking I would become a failure just because I enjoyed games.
Thanks to UT2004, my dream to walk the ground of those beautiful landscapes became true. If you missed the golden days of the Unreal Tournament saga, you’ll probably won’t feel as passionate as I feel when I talk about this game, but just take a quick look into the maps and you WILL see the kind of level design this game had. As a matter of fact, I encourage to play it.
Unreal Tournament 2004 was beautiful no doubt, but I didn’t stop there, I actually went a play some other great FPS games, among those, Counter Strike Source. Considered to be the black sheep of the CS family. CSS introduced me to the Source engine and thus, to some of the finest water graphics and reflections I had seen back then, yet, what I actually love more was that this was probably my first touch of a gaming community. Unreal Tournament wasn’t a very popular game after 2008, it was, sadly, slowly dying into a pit of abandonment. Counter Strike on the other hand is probably one of the most played game sagas of all time.
Pool rules: The Pool rules, period.
The thing is, Counter Strike was (probably still is) extremely popular in Latin America for some unholy reason that I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe thanks to how easy it was to get a pirated version that would still play on server. I don’t know, but I played multiplayer and I loved it. I sucked at it, that’s for sure, but guess what? My favorite part of the game was actually dying. When you die you get the choice to follow others players cameras, but you also get the choice to free-roam noclip style and I loooooved doing that. Italy, Dust, Savanna, Favela, Mansion, Snow, Pool, Inferno, Aztec, etc; Geez, I played a ton of CS maps both official and custom made, yet the custom made was where my loved for exploration was born. Gameplay wise, CS is fun, but the gameplay just didn’t click on me on the long run, but the Source engine sparked a love that would go and grow even more. Guess what game would truly shine that love on my heart?
The original Unreal was my first narrative driven exploration FPS game ever.
Unreal Tournament 2004 and CSS were really fun games with awesome maps, but the thing is, those maps just existed as a device for gameplay. They sacrificed visual and level design freedom for balancing purposes. After all, their main setup was the competitive multiplayer, but Unreal changed everything for me.
The original Unreal, that game so pretty and beautiful during 1999 that it blew everyone’s mind. Now it looks like a piece of gum that got melted with some colors (and I loved it) yet, back then Unreal was probably the Crysis of 90s games. Before Can it run Crysis? It was Can it run Unreal? So, with that you can make an idea of how truly fantastic this game was visual wise. Yet, both Unreal Tournament 2004 and CSS look superior on the graphic department, but like I said before they truly were not meant to be taken as exploration-adventure games. Unreal on the other hands embraces exploration and landscape design. Yes, you heard me, dear reader, I’m not saying level design, I mean landscape design.
This article right here (https://www.pcgamer.com/great-moments-in-pc-gaming-escaping-the-prison-ship-in-unreal/) explains perfectly well what it was to play Unreal back then. Unreal maps/levels are not just meant to be a form to go through the game enjoying the combat and killing some weird-looking aliens. Unreal levels are meant to be savored. These levels are downright gorgeous and I dare to say that the second level of Unreal, right after escaping the ship, is probably alongside E1M1 the greatest level of all time. Period.
Unreal levels were just not levels, they were beautiful landscapes that you could explore with joy.
Since the first level, you were rewarded in the time you took at exploring the prison ship with various helpful items. As a matter of fact, all levels reward you from exploring, which immediately sends your brain the idea that: I should explore this a bit. This was the first time that a game was making me feel nice for going away from the original path. It was great. Unreal is also long as heck, and some levels can be quite harder and some are not as cool as others (looking at you Return to Na Pali) but the overall game is pretty much a masterpiece in my opinion.
I could keep talking about games that molded my passion towards gaming landscape, or as JP calls it: Game tourism (http://vectorpoem.com/tourism/) but now after this introduction, I want to show you what has truly allowed me to escape the reality that surrounded me.
Now, all these years later, that sense of exploration has been quite softened. Most modern FPS’s in the AAA genre still make gorgeous levels, but as usual, centered around the much dominating Multiplayer mode, yet, is not that they are bad, is just that… I don’t feel that sense of wandering as much as I did before. Call it age, call it saturation, or maybe just sheer boredom. I can’t say I play every single FPS title that comes out, but most that I do, I just do for the fun. The last game that actually made me gasp in awe was Metro Exodus, one of my favorite modern games ever. Yet, after the excitement calms down and the dust settles, what’s left?
Doom is left.
The Doom Era
Sorry if my long introduction bored some of you. I may have taken my time to get to the point, but I believe it to be a necessary introduction into what truly will make Doom shine among the rest of games, even if its old as hell.
Doom is, on its natural state, a very simple yet almost perfect FPS game. The general consensus is that among the IWADs, The Ultimate Doom possess the best level design, with Knee-Deep in the Dead considered as the best one in most cases. Well, one thing is for certain, the Tech-base style of Episode 1 is without a doubt the most influential theme in the entirety of the Doom community since the first ever WAD.
And that’s the beauty of it. Doom original levels were freaking fun but naturally may look outdated in the current year. We are talking about a game that is soon-to-be 27 years old and a game that will still be played even after 30 years. Heck, I see myself checking Doom in 50 years. Episode 1 of The Ultimate Doom is probably the greatest starting point for this community. I mean, it is indeed the starting point of at least an 80% of the people that have played Doom in all these years, but not only that, is also the point from where the community of mappers decide to take off and create their own re-imaginings of what Knee-Deep is. But mappers have to start somewhere, right?
Now a days most modern players may take or play custom maps as granted, just a simple skill that takes some time to develop. Yeah, sure, but have you ever looked behind you and see where it all started? Beauty is like a flower, first it needs to set roots, for when the time comes it shall blossom like a universe in your hand.
Doom is the canvas; the map editors are the colors and tools and the mapper is the artist. With that beautiful synergy between creation and creator, you have things that have just kicked everything out of the park. Doom WADs have evolved, big time, since 1994, 1993 if we count the original IWAD.
We I started my journey into Doom, I was already considerable old, like 14 or 15 years. My first taste of Doom was with the black sheep of the saga, Doom 3. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the game and truly feared it for its diabolic art style and dark levels, but on the other hand, it really didn’t spark the exploration curiosity that I was trying to find. Yet, thanks to the not-so-respected BFG Edition, I finally could try out the originals, the classic Doom games and see by myself what this 90s era was like. Lucky me, my gaming mentality wasn’t closed to old-school videogames, as a matter of fact, I wanted more old-school games, so this was, indeed, a welcoming experience that I enjoyed quite much. Forward in time, source-ports came into action, forward a little bit more in time and the best thing ever happened.
Once I found out about the /idgames archive, there was no coming back. This was it; this was the biggest, greatest and most fascinating repository of custom maps (and a lot of other custom stuff) that I had ever found. Still, to this day, I genuinely believe in that the Doom community is the greatest modding community of all time. You can get, quite literally, lost in this ocean of custom content, but above all else, in this glorious dimension of WADs, the famous file that allows to play custom-made maps on the original Doom engine games. This is where my Doomed journey began. This is where I would find not only an absurd amount of fascinating content, but a lovely community of welcoming veterans and cheerful newcomers alike. This was the game that would help me go through life in these unhappy times.
The first map that would launch me into a craze of pure madness and joy.
And it was freaking great. Scythe was just a taste to come, for I don’t remember exactly when or how, but once I knew about the existence of the Cacowards, I just went batshit crazy. All the WADs I could play in a lifetime? (or about 3 decades content-worth) and everything for free?! This was heaven. Still is heaven. I have always been fan of community content. Been a lover of Steam Workshop, I found myself looking more and more into the eyes of the modding community in all sorts of games, yet, despite that, I really never felt truly satisfied with what I found. Probably another modding community that I cheerfully enjoyed was the Left 4 Dead 2 mapping community, but dear lord, once I found Doom, I just married it.
But why is that? And what has all this to do with escapism and Doom? Well, that’s what you are about to see. Doom is, in many ways, extremely open to re interpretations. If you have the skills and patience, you can create things that look like either completely surreal or absolutely beautiful, or both. Thanks to both the adaptive capabilities and extra skillful hands of various coders, Source-ports exist, which not only allowed me to launch myself into the world of Doom WADs with ease, but overall improve my experience while playing. The Doom engine, in a way, possesses a charm that is very hard to replicate. Even Unreal, that despite the entire love I have for that game, the gameplay lacks some extra polished that would benefit the game from a more modern point of view. Doom, on the other hand, has us to polished like a beautiful, unparalleled diamond.
And this is where I’ve lost myself.
The Beauty of WADs.
I live in a not-so-great (shitty) country and really boring city. With not much to do, not many places to go or activities to partake apart from the simple walking around the streets and drinking, there really wasn’t much I could do to satisfy my craving for exploration. I’ve always wanted to explore places; put my feet on virgin land, go far away and reach the horizon. Just a way to run away from this boring hell. But I just can’t, there’s really no true opportunity for me in that regard… until Doom.
Many games allow for custom maps, but how many of those allow the ease of launch that a WAD offers?
All I needed to do was google Doom WADs, search for a few minutes, find one that interested me, search on /idgames, download, drag it and drop it to my source-port, ???, profit. It was just great. I loved dearly the simplicity in how everything worked. There was a time were this wasn’t as easy to do, but now, this is so easily done and fast that it almost feels absurd; plus, the .wad files on themselves don’t weight NOTHING compared to how stupidly big modern games are. Looking at you, CoD…
On my first journey into this new world, I have to admit that I really wasn’t paying much attention to most of the WAD scenery that I found. Since I tried to start from the first to the last (probably one of the reasons why I embrace vanilla design so much) I started with very simple WADs that don’t look like such amazing things compared to the beast that we enjoy now. But worry not, I did end up playing some of those magnificent creatures that we can call masterpieces (or Cacowards). Slowly but surely, I started to discover that what I was playing was much more than just a way to pass my time. It was like tasting by hand the food that somebody else did for me. Like walking into a restaurant, you sit down, asked for your plate, wait just a moment, bang, the plate is here, time to taste it and… oh, it tastes so good. This is one delicious dish, but above all else, this one great restaurant where you can get everything you want. Just ask. Seriously, just ask, in over 26 years, there’s plenty to try out. That’s what I did at least, and that’s how I got here. With time, my passion starting a big fire that right now, I’m pretty sure could make any other of my flames feel ashamed in comparison. The love I share for Doom is one that has evolved into many different factors, and one of those is the beauty that allows me to be in another world. That is, the jump into a map that, looking simple on the outside, brings so much more in the inside. Once I got more involved in the overall interactions with the community, there was no coming back. This is it; this is Doom, this is what I want, I said to myself, and now, a few years later, here I am, writing about why this game allowed me to live my dreams of exploration.
All I ever wanted was to go far and go away; beyond the veil and over the horizon. A place where no man has been and no eye has seen. Doom makes that wish a reality by showing me thousands of worlds where the eye can shower in pure delight and wonder. Dreamscapes, if you wish.
Doom maps are not only for the destination, but also for the journey.
All my years looking for the next Unreal experience in my life, and I finally found it. The name was Doom, and despite the gloomy hellish title, it was a blessing to me, you could say almost a miracle. Here it was, a doorway, or stairway (to hell?) that allowed me to reach the greatest height that I could wish for. All this thanks to one fantastically designed piece of engine and thanks to the great, amazing efforts of the community out there, making sure that this game takes all the love it deserves.
From bright, shiny maps to darkly gloomy and hellish landscapes, there’s a bit of everything.
I encourage you to take a different point of view when playing any WAD that you want to try after reading this. Don’t look at it as just a way of communicating gameplay, but also see beyond the mechanics and appreciate the intangible essence. That which we can only look. Level design must take a lot of factors into account so it can be successful at making the player have a good time, but I got a secret for you regarding my own enjoyment: I sometimes just enjoy looking at the map. This may be one of the reasons why I started my own screenshots/review archive (https://imgur.com/user/EndlessDoomArchive/posts) but is also one of the reason why I tend to have such a good time with almost every single WAD that I play. I must admit, I’m not much a critic myself. I see something that I like and I will try to focus on that thing so I can at least enjoy myself while playing it. This may or may not be a negative thing, but for, it has work quite well. Hence why I enjoyed the WAD world so much. The variety is insane, the detail is pure sadism, the layouts are so diverse and some are so great that it feels like a whole new game. So much, so good.
The amount of work that has been done with level/map editors is insane, but so are the map makers. Since the 90s to the 2020s, they still won’t give up Doom and keep pumping such quality that my mind just gets a wet-stroke.
Almost three decades later, even one of the OG creators keeps making maps for Doom! Damn!
Do I want to go to the red planet and see Mars with my own eyes? Just need to look for the right WAD. How about something more purist? Just search for the thousands of Tech-base styled maps. Maybe something different, something crazy? Plenty of absolutely nutty maps out there. All right, something more grounded, leveled to Earth? There’s quite a ton of urban/Earth themed WADs that shine with pride. Okey, okey, how about something that feels like dimensional travel? Oh boy, you got some surprises coming for you. Fuck it, give me something like a forest or a green map? Yup, there’s also that.
Get the point? There are entire worlds out there!
There’s even Heretic for those dark-fantasy driven Doomers out there!
Plenty of stuff to play, plenty of stuff to enjoy. Doom is the key to the door that lets me gaze into beautiful pieces of art, but better yet, it immerses me on them. For that and much more, I will always look at Doom with a wonderous eye. Like an explorer aboard a ship, looking far into the unknow horizon that stretches beyond the scope of his eye. Here, I’m finally free to escape this mad place, enjoy the goodness of just some fictitious, yet, real enough worlds, where I can have some great fun and sense of wonder, something that real life lacks for me. Every once in a while, I just like to look at maps and wonder: How would it be if this was real? Sure, demons aside, I’m pretty sure I would be having a great time exploring worlds like those that we can find on Doom WADs. Heck, if you really want to sense the solitude and peace of exploring Doom maps, just look for any Deathmatch maps and enjoy the silence while you explore combat arenas that lack anything living, but you. It’s almost hard to believe that these beautiful settings are home deadly combat.
To live is to dream.
While sometimes I may spend my day rambling about the disgraceful state of everything around me and the constant misery of this god-forsaken land, sometimes I also just like to sit down and enjoy the view. But what view can I enjoy? What else is to see that I haven’t seen? Well, here, not much, but there, in that game that crumbles right into the abyss of hell, there I can see things where no mere eye can go. World that despite being, clearly, a foundation of fiction and virtuality, feel so real to the imaginative touch of my hand. Like a dream, a good dream, sometimes we don’t want to end, but we still wake up and feel the sun on our face. Escapism works like that too. It’s just a dream, a place where you can feel and sense the surrealism of a machination made by an artist. Like dreams, there’s no limit to what you can feel, to what you can sense, to what you can live. Sure, it ends, like all dreams, there’s a moment when you have to wake up, but when I’m in Doom, I really don’t need to wake up. I am wild awake, completely sure of what’s to my left and what’s to my right. I see the walls and I hear the streets, but right in front of me, lies a computer. A device hated by most family members that go over the 40-year span, but loved by those that seek for something different than the usual conformism and denial. Well, ironic. One could say that escapism is, in a way, also a form of denial, yet, when we are sure that what we are doing is not real, yet still feels like a better place, what are we accepting? The denial, or the happiness that brings? Both a positive and a negative effect, is that escapism is the acceptance that what we are enjoying, is… well… not real. Thus, we strive for further world where imagination can be set free. Even if is only that, a work of imagination. I can’t really say that this is blissful ignorance, for, at least on my part, I am well aware of where I live and to where I escape. A game.
I’ve never seen snow in my life, yet here, here it is in all its 90s glory for me.
Doom and the community have managed to create a landscape where everything can become a reality. Even the cool looking slopes (https://www.dfdoom.com/tutorial-sloped-3d-floors/) and non-Euclidean geometry (https://doomwiki.org/wiki/Linguortal) can be done if you have the skills for it. With time, I’m pretty damn sure that both the mappers, coders and the source-ports themselves will be capable of creating even crazier and cooler stuff. Just look at our history, each year has brought a different surprise that manages to endure for a great legacy. What once was impossible, became magical, and what once was magical, became ordinary.
Doom maps won’t stop amazing me probably never. Mostly because I’m just an egg yolk compared to the full-grown veterans that have lived this game history since 1993. I have still too much stuff to try and too much stuff to enjoy, and that fills me with excitement and wonder for what’s to come.
You, dear reader, dear Doomer, you may look at Doom with different eyes, with a more grounded point of view where there’s plenty of fun and simplistic yet joyful mechanics, but you, dear reader, dear Doomer, you may also look at it like an expression of a different form of art, one where there’s so many colors and so many different styles that it is impossible to just encapsulate it into one single genre.
Doom is a landscape. A beautiful and constantly evolving landscape where the eye can have a good time and just flow into a different current. Like a beautiful panorama of the Rocky Mountains, there’s as much depth and beaty as your eye can see, and more. Don’t stray away from the magic that a map is; its level design, its layout. Go further beyond and explore, sense every step and every cranny. Feel what the map maker was trying to achieve, wherever it is gameplay or a visually outstanding style. Just enjoy it, just escape into it.
Some of the dozens of maps I have played and enjoyed.
Doom is the perfect videogame for escapism into new, delightfully unique worlds. Hell, mountains, deserts, tech-bases, Mars, the Moon, Earth, Mesoamerican culture, dreamlike states, fantasy world, cities, towns, villages, corrupted bases, space stations, Lovecraftian maps, horror maps, toxic wastelands, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, anime themed, parody, jokes, crazy Cyberdemon buttholes, inside a computer, inside a simulation, forests, snowy lands, dark castles, marble palaces, blue oceans, black worlds, sinister worlds, happy worlds. I thank both Doom for offering the space and the community for filling the space with absolute beauty. I thank you for allowing me to be the explorer I’ve always wanted to be. The best part is that I’m not even halfway there because there still is so, so, so much more to discover.
Now it’s your turn. Go explore, go and escape inside the worlds of Doom.
To read this article in its full glory, check out issue #5: https://wadazine.com/portofolio/